Part I:

Cuebidding basics

Gordon Bower

To many beginning players, slam bidding is all about Blackwood. In fact, Blackwood is only one tool among many, and, according to Easley Blackwood himself, his ace-asking convention is probably only appropriate on something like 25% of slam-zone hands.

Good slam bidding relies on setting trumps and establishing a game force while the bidding is still relatively low, and using the space below game as efficiently as possible. There are several specialized conventions to help, but the simplest and most often used is the cue-bid or control-showing bid: after trumps have been set and you are committed to game, bidding a side suit at your first chance to do so shows first round control (the ace or a void) in that suit; at your second chance, second round control (the king or a singleton.) The classic cuebidding situation is after 1S-3S:

(Warning: if your partner plays "Italian cuebids" he may show you either the ace or the king on the first round of cuebidding. This is not standard, but is a very common treatment among experts who choose not to adopt a structure like the one I show in Part II.)

The golden rules of cuebidding

  1. If you are sure what the final contract should be, place the contract. If you cuebid, you indicate you still need additional information to decide at what level to play (game vs. small slam, or small vs. grand slam)
  2. Each additional step of bidding space you use sends a progressively more specific message about your hand.
  3. Never risk reaching an impossible contract by cuebidding. Whichever partner commits to bidding one level higher is guaranteeing the values to make that contract.

Rule #1, and mandatory vs. optional cuebids

Suppose the auction begins 1S by you, 3S(limit raise) by your partner. Since partner's strength is narrowly constrained, if your hand does not contain extra strength you can be completely certain slam is impossible. You can bid 4S, regardless of which aces you do or do not have, and partner will pass, making 4S the final contract.

On the other hand, suppose the bidding begins 1S by you, 2C by your partner, 2D by you, 3S by your partner. Partner is unlimited, guaranteeing you have the values for game, but partner could have a monster and be waiting for information from you to decide which slam to bid. Therefore, even if you yourself are not interested in a slam, you should provide your partner with the requested information, (in this case, bidding 4C if you have the ace of clubs, for example.) If you raise 3S to 4S your partner will assume you have denied possession of a side-suit ace.

If your partner's hand is unlimited, and you can show a control without pushing the level of bidding higher, you are in what is called a mandatory cue-bidding situation. That is, because partner's hand is unlimited, you can't unilaterally decide that it is right to sign off.

Let's continue our hypothetical auction one round farther. Let's say it goes (with your opponents passing throughout) 1S-2C, 2D-3S, 4C-4D. What do your possible next bids mean?

Rule #2: Beware of dogs that don't bark

This is true of all bidding sequences. Think about what your partner's bid means, and also about what your partner could have bid but chose not to, and what that means.

To give a simple example, suppose the bidding starts 1S-3S-4C. Now you hear your partner bid 4H. Why 4H and not 4D? The way most people use cuebids, you are entitled to assume your partner has the HA but does not have the DA.

Traditional cuebidding allows you some freedom in choosing which order to show controls. For instance, if you have both CA and DA in your own hand, after 1S-3S the "obvious" bid is 4C, but you know your partner is not going to respond with 4D since partner doesn't have the DA, and you may find yourself forced all the way to 5D on your next turn. Some textbooks recommend you "lie" by bidding 4D first and 5C next, saving a step of bidding and making it easier for partner to show you a second-round diamond control. Others will claim that by bidding 4D first you deny the CA,and when you bid 5C next, you are showing DA and CK.

This flexibility imposes a major limitation on the usefulness of standard cuebids. If you have no formal agreement on what order you show your controls, you are unable to deduce as much about your partner's hand.

The key difference between standard cuebids and the system I describe in Part II is the addition of a formal rule for which cuebid to make when holding several controls, which results in a very powerful and efficient way to show almost all the face cards in one's hand.

Onward to Part II
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This page last updated 16.12.09
©2006,2009 Gordon Bower